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Midsomer Murders: Set 22

Release Year:         2011
Studio:         Acorn Media
Format:         Colour; NTSC
Rated:         Not Rated
# of Discs/Episodes:         4 / 4
Running Time:         372 minutes plus bonus
DVD Release Date:         August 6, 2013
Creators:         Brian True-May
Screenwriters:         David Lawrence, Nicholas Martin, Rachel Cuperman, Sally Griffiths, Steve Trafford
Directors:         Simon Langton, Nick Laughland, Renny Rye
Actors:         Neil Dudgeon, Jason Hughes, Warren Clarke
DVD Features:         SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:         9/10

Acorn Media Write-up:    
The cozy villages of Midsomer County reveal their most sinister secrets in these contemporary British television mysteries. Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, modern master of the English village mystery, the series stars Neil Dudgeon (Life of Riley) as the capable Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby, with Jason Hughes (This Life) as his earnest, efficient partner, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones. Guest stars include Warren Clarke, Joanna David, Genevieve O’Reilly, and James Dreyfus.

The Mysteries:
The Sleeper under the Hill – Barnaby and Jones investigate a group of Druids in Midsomer Mow.
The Night of the Stag – Local bootleggers come under suspicion after the disappearance of a government inspector.
A Sacred Trust – Vandalism and violence send shock waves through Midsomer’s cloistered nunnery.
A Rare Bird – The detectives investigate whether competition between ornithology enthusiasts led to murder.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:    
While earlier episodes starring Neil Dudgeon, the new Barnaby in Midsomer, tended towards a darker tone, Set 22 of MIDSOMER MURDERS returns to a lighter touch. Of course there are still plenty of lovely means of dispatching victims at hand to keep fans happy. These, along with those curious eccentricities (The Night of the Stag) that define the very essence of Englishness, are the steak and kidney pie of the show, without which MIDSOMER MURDERS would rapidly waste away.

Perhaps such familiarities are even more important now that we have eased into the Dudgeon era of the show. Be that as it may, the return to England’s murder capitol that is precipitated by each new set is fun, relaxing and enjoyable.

The first episode, The Sleeper under the Hill, is average MIDSOMER, but the disc also contains a very charming extended interview with Neil Dudgeon, and another with Jason Hughes. While he’s not John Nettles (who is?) Dudgeon is a very charming man in his own right and his riff on the MIDSOMER theme music is quite delightful.

Lest anyone think the writing is becoming lax need look no further than The Night of the Stag for a reference (including a direct quote attributed to King Henry II) to the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. This is not only clever, it is subtle and the allusion is left only for those who catch it—no explanation is offered. Touches such as this show the creative minds behind MIDSOMER MURDERS recognize the intelligence of their audience.

In the set’s third episode, A Sacred Trust, some steps are taken (inadvertently, perhaps) to portray people of faith a little more respectfully. The episode features a handful of nuns who, eccentric though some of them may be, are shown to be real, intelligent people. This is a welcome change to the show’s propensity for making anyone who expresses a certain spiritual perspective (specifically Christianity) automatically the villain.

And why shouldn’t MIDSOMER MURDERS acknowledge this foible? The show clearly aims to please, never losing sight (as some of the grittier police shows do) that audiences wish to be entertained. That is why we enjoy such touches as Barnaby’s interaction with his dog, Sykes. It’s fun.

The best surprise of set 22, however, is the last episode, A Rare Bird. It is exceptional, with some of the best direction I’ve ever seen in a MIDSOMER MURDERS episode. Some very clever camera effects are on hand, though they always serve the story and never seem superfluous. Of these segments, the ballet flashback is particularly effective. This episode is a return to the very best this show has to offer.

MIDSOMER MURDERS is a perennial favourite world-wide, not just in the UK. There are even Midsomer tours for fans of the show to indulge their guilty pleasure. When a television show becomes a tourist industry that is the time to really take stock. As it stands today, MIDSOMER MURDERS still has plenty of life in it. That says a lot about the quality of the creative artists and the traditional tastes of its (significantly large) audience.

The series is still in production, and there are almost a dozen episodes already broadcast in the UK that haven’t yet been released in North America. That is good news indeed!